Astro Pizza seemed a warm, safe haven after a brief vigil in frigid rain across the street, where Allison Lupo had apologized to a small crowd for the fact that the wind kept blowing out candles. Vigil-goers like Lea Jarvis and Mark English looked at home at separate tables along with Tony Lupo, Allison’s husband, who said in the Italian tradition of churchgoing he’d let his wife run the event on the other side of Amagansett’s Main Street while he took care of the restaurant.
Ms. Jarvis or Mr. English could well have stepped out moments later into what was now darkness and thickening snow—at about 7:30 p.m.—and remembered that this had been John Judge’s path exactly as he left the pizza place with a promise to return for coffee the next morning. Instead, he was struck and killed by a Jeep Cherokee driven by Edward L. Orr, 31, of Montauk, at approximately 7:52 p.m. on October 23. Mr. Judge, 61, was found in the eastbound lane by East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who was also visiting the restaurant, and pronounced dead at Southampton Hospital.
The vigil held Monday was intended both to commemorate Mr. Judge and to protest what some felt was an overly lenient recommendation for Mr. Orr’s sentencing. Mr. Orr pleaded guilty to one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident and one felony count of tampering with physical evidence in Suffolk County Criminal Court on March 20.
At Mr. Orr’s sentencing before Justice William Condon on April 24, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office will seek a term of two to six years in state prison, according to Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota. He is likely to serve four to six years upstate, according to Gordon Ryan, Mr. Orr’s Montauk attorney.
After an investigation of over three months, East Hampton Town Police arrested Mr. Orr on February 7 with what Mr. Ryan described as “just unbelievable evidence against him.”
“Everyone assumes he was intoxicated, but he was coming home from a counseling session at Phoenix House,” Mr. Ryan said late last week. According to the Montauk attorney, Mr. Orr confessed to police that he was driving home from East Hampton when, he thought, he hit a deer on Main Street.
Mr. Ryan said Mr. Orr told police that he pulled over near the Amagansett School but could see nothing and learned only afterward that Mr. Judge had been killed. “When he realized that he had been involved in an accident a day later, he was afraid to turn himself in,” Mr. Ryan said. “He was in trouble already, on probation.”
Mr. Orr was on probation for embezzlement at his place of employment, for which he made restitution, Mr. Ryan said, and had previously been arrested for drunken and reckless driving. He served about four months in a Suffolk County Stop DWI program at a facility in Yaphank that offers intensive counseling for drug and alcohol abuse, Mr. Ryan said, and reportedly had been sober for months.
At the time of the accident, East Hampton Town Police and the Suffolk County Police Department Crime Stoppers asked the public to help them find the vehicle that had struck Mr. Judge, and both Crime Stoppers and an Amagansett resident, Larry Siedlick, offered $5,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest of the driver.
“It was an impossible case for him to hide,” Mr. Ryan said. “There was no doubt for me that they were going to find out who did it,” he said. “They looked at every car that color made by the Chrysler Corporation in the county. … Once they found the car, it was all over.”
The detectives found the Jeep, which was recovered in New Jersey, by matching pieces of the front end and paint chips found on the road and on Mr. Judge’s clothing, according to Mr. Ryan. In addition to the confession and physical evidence, they used cellphone records to prove that Mr. Orr had been on Main Street in Amagansett within minutes of when Mr. Judge was found.
“The Town Police put together a case against Edward Orr that is overwhelming,” the attorney said.
Mr. Spota agreed. The detectives’ “determination and skill in working every lead over three and one-half months led to the apprehension and prosecution of Orr,” he said in a statement this week.
Mr. Ryan said it was not the initial accident, but Mr. Orr’s subsequent actions that will lead to years in an upstate prison. “Prior to the arrest, Mr. Orr informed me and I advised him to turn himself in,” he said. “I told him I’d take him in on the spot that day; I wanted to get him in before they got him.”
After the accident, Mr. Orr ran his Jeep into a road sign near the Montauk Lighthouse “to explain his damage to the car,” Mr. Ryan said. “The D felony was leaving the scene,” he said. “The E felony was tampering with the evidence.” The punishment for leaving the scene of a fatal accident can be up to seven years in jail, and it can be up to four years for tampering with physical evidence. A misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief, for vandalism to the road sign, was dismissed in light of the guilty plea.
Mr. Orr initially pleaded not guilty to the two felony counts on February 15, which Mr. Ryan said is essentially a technical plea to preserve a defendant’s rights. He subsequently waived his right to a trial and pleaded guilty “very quickly” for several reasons in addition to the strength of the prosecutor’s case, according to his attorney.
“The court system favors those that move through it quickly,” Mr. Ryan said, and “Mr. Orr didn’t want to resist any more.” After failing to post $250,000 cash bail at the time of his arrest in February, Mr. Orr has been in the Suffolk County jail in Riverside, which is a maximum-security prison and “a rough place,” Mr. Ryan said.
“Tom Spota definitely wanted big prison time,” said Mr. Orr’s attorney, who will request credit for time already served. “No way this is going to be dealt with gently.” Mr. Ryan said that everyone from East Hampton Town Justice Catherine Cahill, who set bail, to the district attorney was “very unhappy” with Mr. Orr’s failure to come forward after the accident.
“Because of this lack of judgment, or misjudgment, he’ll be spending years” in prison, Mr. Ryan said.
When asked to comment last week, East Hampton Town Police Detective Sergeant Robert Gurney said, “The Police Department appreciates the support of John’s family and the Lupo family during our investigation.” He expressed gratitude for their patience, adding that “there were certainly bumps in the road” during the investigation.
Detective Sergeant Gurney added that the Amagansett Fire Department and the Ambulance Corps, which responded to the accident, had been extremely helpful. “They respond on all these cases and they’re usually never thanked by us, but they’re super professional in what they do,” he said. He added that the Suffolk County Police Department and Crime Lab as well as the DA’s office had also provided assistance.
Meanwhile, the Lupos believe that the DA’s recommended sentence is insufficient, and a petition to that effect sitting near the cash register at Astro Pizza had 131 signatures in two days. A Facebook group, Justice for John, had 557 members as of Tuesday morning.
“I hope to hear from him one day that he’s sorry,” Ms. Lupo said of Mr. Orr at the vigil, which drew about 13 people Monday night. “Accidents happen,” said her son, Gianfelice Lupo, and Ms. Lupo completed the sentence, “but you have to stand up and come around and admit it.”
“John was a great man, he was a great guy,” Mr. English said at the vigil. Ms. Jarvis echoed that sentiment afterward, explaining that she’d signed the petition “so he does not get forgotten.”
“I hope John is never forgotten.” Ms. Lupo also said, adding that Mr. Judge’s friends had sold his Thunderbird to a young man who promised to restore it. They were going to use the proceeds to put a teak bench on the sidewalk near where Mr. Judge lost his life, a spot Ms. Lupo said she looks out on “all day” from the family’s restaurant across the street.
“The purpose here is to remember John, not who did what,” said Stu Juckett of his own attendance at the vigil. “He really was a good guy. He didn’t have a lot of money, but he was always smiling.”